- an expression of a general truth or principle
- a principle or rule of conduct
Innovation, more often than not, involves copying what works in one domain and successfully adapting it for use in another. This article references the widely disseminated Special Operations Forces (SOF) Truths as a template. The Purpose of this article is to conduct academic and friendly “reconnaissance by fire” to initiate discussion around best cultural and process practices related to military innovation.
Question – What are the maxims we want to solidify into organisational behaviours and habits to create a tangible culture of military innovation?
MILITARY INNOVATION MAXIMS:
1. It’s not innovation until it’s implemented.
Implementation is how successful innovation is measured.
2. Quantity > Quality.
The Soviet Cold War era “Quantity has a Quality of its own” applies. In the music and movie industries, and venture capital industry; even well vetted music demos, movie scripts, and startup pitches respectively, still have a hit rate of only 5-10%.
Quantity of innovative ideas is absolutely necessary to achieve quality in innovation implementation.
3. Military Innovators can be mass produced.
Humans are not born creative, innovative, or adaptable. Much like physical fitness, we need to go to the mental gym to improve our capacity and capability in adaptability, creativity, and observation skills. Every soldier can do it. Every soldier should do it.
4. It’s always H-Hour. Implement “good enough” today, then iterate towards excellence tomorrow.
5. No innovative idea survives first contact with End Users and Problem Owners.
Ideas evolve from inception. Iteration occurs from the moment an idea is conceptualised by an individual through to a successful Minimum Viable Prototype (MVP) and continues well after implementation.
6. Always be iterating.
Innovation success is a never ending iterative process. This is where a team of teams approach to innovation can combine the benefits of the Lean Start Up idea exploration methodology with the implementation exploitation methodology of Lean Six Sigma.
7. Embedded learning + implementation = innovation scorecard.
If you can’t measure it, it’s not worth pursuing. And if you’re not learning from it, it’s not worth doing. Measure, embed, and scale institutional learning from MVPs. Most MVPs will not be implemented, so the substantial learning value from non implemented MVPs must be embedded into the organisation. Measure innovation implementation.
8. Military innovation is a full contact team of teams sport.
Individuals create ideas, teams explore MVPs, and a team of teams implements innovation.
Military innovation requires a combined arms approach by relevant elements of the entire organisation working to mutually support and complement each other for successful innovation implementation.
It starts with an individual soldier and an idea, or a commander with a problem; growing into a small team to build an MVP for solution, exploration and institutional learning; then evolving into a team of teams for implementation and continuous iteration.
It means combining the authority of solid line hierarchy and the power of dotted line interpersonal networks. Merging solid line control with dotted line influence to create a team of teams that is both resilient and agile.
“Build, Measure, Learn” is a direct analog of “Move, Shoot, Communicate”.
What would YOU add, delete, or iterate to a list of military innovation maxims?
In my next article, we will discuss a recent innovation implementation case study for the No Duff Network.
About the author: Chris Elles is a member of the New Zealand Army (Reserve) who is focused on developing innovative training. He is currently serving as a Company Weapons Sergeant in 2/4 RNZIR and as a member of the Aumangea Assessment Program Training Team. He is also a small business entrepreneur and an alumnus of Stanford’s Graduate School of Business.